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Floral usage partitioning and competition between social (Apis mellifera, Bombus terrestris) and solitary bees in New Zealand: Niche partitioning via floral preferences?

Iwasaki, Jay M., Dickinson, Katharine J. M., Barratt, Barbara I. P., Mercer, Alison R., Jowett, Timothy W. D., Lord, Janice M.
Austral ecology 2018 v.43 no.8 pp. 937-948
Apis mellifera, Asteraceae, Bombus terrestris, Colletidae, Fabaceae, Halictidae, alpine grasslands, ecological differentiation, fauna, flowering, honey bees, indigenous species, introduced species, mountains, solitary bees, New Zealand
Worldwide, studies of interactions between introduced and native bees have produced contradictory evidence regarding the potential for competition. Different resource requirements and the impact of tongue length on resource use are often overlooked aspects of these studies. Here, we examine floral resource use and niche overlap between introduced social bees and native solitary bees over two flowering seasons on The Remarkables mountain range, South Island, New Zealand. The native bee fauna of New Zealand is composed of short‐tongued solitary bees in the families Colletidae and Halictidae. Long‐tongued social bees were introduced 150 years ago, and Apis mellifera and Bombus species are now widespread. We analysed floral resource utilization by introduced bees (mainly Bombus terrestris) and native bees in relation to resource abundance across elevations in montane to alpine grassland communities. We modelled resource utilization and overlap between bee taxa using a novel index of floral resource availability, developed to more accurately describe floral density. Additionally, we sought to quantify the impact of honey bees by introducing hives, however, low densities in study plots prevented direct conclusions from being drawn. Native and introduced bees did, however, have distinctly different floral preferences over the flowering season with more niche overlap within, rather than between, native and introduced groups. Introduced bees showed a preference for introduced species in the family Fabaceae which native bees could not access. Native bees heavily utilized introduced Asteraceae as well as native floral resources that introduced bees did not prefer. The limited resource overlap between bee taxa indicated that bee communities in New Zealand may have reduced potential for competition, owing to the different resource requirements of solitary versus social bees and their differing abilities to access floral resources. These findings provide some potential explanations for contradictory evidence worldwide regarding the perceived detrimental impacts of introduced social bees.